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“This is The Land Before Time on crystal meth.”
Doug Walker, Nostalgia Critic “We’re Back : A Dinosaur Story” Review
I don’t even know where to start.
As a kid from the nineties….OK, let’s not kind ourselves. Late nineties. I was four in 2000.
Anyway, the nineties was an excellent time for traditional animation. It was before the era of Shrek and every animated kids film was a computer animated pop culture referencing fest. The nineties was the pinnacle of the traditional animation art form in the States, were multiple companies began producing high quality animated films for kids. Disney started this trend when they reinvigorated their animation studios and produced such classics as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King and so on. Wanting to replicate their success, many other studios began upping their game in animation as well. 2oth Century Fox gave us Anastasia, Warner Brothers gave us the Iron Giant, Dreamworks gave us The Prince of Egypt; all these films were at the top of their game animation wise. We may never see this much great traditional animation in the mainstream theaters ever again.
Another animation studio that cropped up around this time to compete with Disney was Amblimation, an animation division under Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. The studio released a couple pretty good efforts including the American Tail sequel Fievel Goes West and later the film Balto. Both movies were decent, and both had top notch animation. But the other film by this studio is the one we will be discussing today: We’re Back : A Dinosaur Story.
For me personally, this is an odd film to talk about. I’m going to be honest, I’m not exactly sure what to think about this film. The animation is top notch and the voice acting is pretty good, but the film’s tone is all over the place and the story is s bit of a mess. Sometimes I think the movie is just way too overly cutesy, yet there’s also a bit of charm and likability to it’s innocence. But in other ways the film makes no sense and barely makes a coherent narrative.
Let me explain.
The basic plot of the movie is that a group of dinosaurs are given human like intelligence from an alien and a futuristic human inventor by way of ‘Brain Gain’ cereal (yes, cereal, as in the stuff you put in a bowl and eat with a spoon). This inventor guy has a machine that can read the wishes of children and decides to bring back the dinosaurs to fulfill the wants of kids who wish they could see dinosaurs in real life. He takes the dinosaurs to modern New York where they meet a runaway little boy and a neglected rich girl who are off to join the circus, which happens to be run by the inventor’s evil brother Screw Eyes, who uses the circus for his own nefarious purposes, and plans to use the dinosaurs themselves as attractions.
Yeah, most family films have pretty straightforward plots so that everyone in the audience will be able to follow no matter the age, but jeez. this movie expects you to take in a lot. Talking dinosaurs, aliens, cereal that makes you anthropomorphic, wish machines, evil circus people, I just wanted to see a cartoon with dinosaurs dammit!!!
OK then, that didn’t really clear anything up. Let’s just look at the characters.
First we’ve got the creatively named Rex, a Tyrannosaurus voiced by John Goodman.
Next up we have a horrifically inaccurate bat winged dragon tailed pterodactyl named Elsa.
We’ve also got a….Parasaurolophus? I don’t know, a hadrosaur of some kind, named Dweeb and voiced by Charles Fleischer.
Yep, that Charles Fleischer.
And finally we’ve got Woog, a Triceratops who sounds like a jazz singer for some reason and also likes to eat hot dogs…for some reason….
BTW, I don’t really buy the ‘Triceratops was omnivorous’ hypothesis.
There’s not really much to say about the dinosaur characters. They’re cute…I guess…and they serve their narrative purpose but they lack real personality. Rex and Elsa are just generically nice. Dweeb is supposed to be dumb…I think, the rest of the dinosaurs aren’t really up their IQ wise either, and I think Woog’s only personality quirk is that he’s black. Rex and Elsa are the only ones that really carry the movie forward (and I say that very loosely), Woog and Dweeb only serve as comic relief and they could be taken out of the movie without any narrative consequence.
So, with that being said, why is it that in the end I still kind of like these guys?
OK, OK, moving on. We’ve also got these two kid characters that tag along with the dinosaurs. First we have Louis, a walking New York stereotype (or accurate depiction depending on who you ask) who is running away from home because apparently his mother kisses him in public.
We’ve also got Cecilla, a rich girl who has been neglected by her family and forced to stay in her big empty mansion all by herself. She is Louis’ forced love interest and is often drawn way too sexy for an eight year old. Ughh, just makes me uncomfortable. Oh yeah, she’s also voiced by Yeardley Smith, and it’s kind of distracting.
Yep, this Yeardley Smith.
And then we’ve got this guy, Captain Neweyes, the brains behind this establishment. He’s from the future wear apparently all the races in all the universe have learned to get along. He travels in a time traveling space ship with his alien friend Vorb (voiced by Jay Leno).
The less we talk about him the better.
Neweyes also has a machine that can detect the wishes of people, specifically children because they ‘wish the loudest’. Thus he uses his ability to control time and space to grant these kids their wishes, and what wishes does he decide to make true?
I wish mom and dad would stop fighting.
I wish we had enough money to buy food.
I wish I got to tell grandma I loved her before she died.
Not even close.
I wish I can see dinosaurs!!!
There you go.
Yep, with the infinite god like power this man has, and his apparent ability to see the wishes of real people across all space and time, he decides his priorities lie with the kids who want to see dinosaurs. Granted, he could have used his abilities to grant more meaningful requests before, but he specifically mentions that this particular wish of kids wanting to see dinosaurs is one of the loudest he’d ever heard. Really, more kids wish they can see dinosaurs more than anyone else? I mean sure, that’s what I was wishing for as a kid, but that’s because I had a pretty good childhood. A lot of kids aren’t so lucky. Man, this sort of makes me mad the more I analyze it. Heck, we even hear more meaningful wishes in the montage. We see a girl who wishes her sister would be nice to her, and Rex only agrees to go when he sees a kid wishing he weren’t so lonely (who turns out to be Louis). Man, Rex has his priorities down much better than Neweyes, and he’s only had his cognitive ability for like 5 minutes!
On the other hand, it is implied that all those wishes we hear in that montage are actually granted by the mere presence of the dinosaurs in the city, so maybe Neweyes has things covered a bit more than he lets on, but it’s still pretty jarring to hear some pretty serious wishes on the machine suddenly drowned out by a bunch of kids wanting to see dinosaurs.
Really, THAT many kids wanted to see dinosaurs that it drowned out all other wishes?
Then again, it was 1993…
…and this movie had just came out.
And here we’ve got the villain of the movie, Professor Screweyes, Neweyes’ brother. He sets up this ‘circus of evil’ type show that is designed to scare people instead of entertain. Thew film treats this as some weird thing, with the characters wondering why anyone would willingly want to be scared. Yeah, I know right? It’s not like scaring people is a multi million dollar business or anything.
Isn’t that right, Spielberg?
In all honesty though, Screweyes is a pretty effective villain, and is probably the coolest part of the movie. His evil plot may be just a bit contrived however. In the film, the kids plan on running away to a circus, and they decided to choose the circus of this upstanding gentleman.
Because he looks like a trustworthy guy, doesn’t he?
They sign a contract and basically sell their souls to them, but then the dinosaurs intervene having remembered that Neweyes told them that Screweyes was not to be trusted. When Screweyes sees the dinosaurs, he puts two and two together and realizes that his brother is behind the whole thing. He says that the children are his now, and feeds them a pill that does the opposite of what the cereal Neweyes gave the dinosaurs, turning the children into apes. He plans to parade them as freaks, and the only way to save them is for the dinos to take their place and forfeit their intelligence. Being the good guys, they agree. The kids are set free, and the dinosaurs return to their prehistoric savage state. But this turn of events has an unforeseen side effect. You take away Rex’s humanity, and he remembers he’s a monstrous killing machine.
Oh yeah, I forgot. I’m bad@$$!
Yep, didn’t think this through did yah?
But of course, Louis talks Rex out of it, and it turns out the way to bring the dinosaurs back to their friendly selves is too…..no, I can’t……I just can’t.
They bring them back to normal by hugging them.
And it’s just as stupid as you would imagine.
Perhaps even stupider.
So yeah, we get our happy ending. The dinosaurs make it to a museum so they can entertain kids, Louis and Cecilia make up with their parents and…kiss?
Come on guys, really? They’re children!
But wait, what about Screweyes? What happens to him?
Well, the most randomly scary thing ever shown in a kid cartoon happens. At this point everyone has abandoned Screweyes, leaving him alone in the dark circus tend. He begins to lament how that when he has no one to scare, he himself can become scared as well. Then a bunch of random crows start circling him, and then suddenly all engulf him at once.
He body is completely covered in crows, and after a moment, they all fly off, with nothing of Screwyes left over except a single screw. Some smoke begins to emerge from the screw (is it his soul or something?) but a crow quickly blows it out and takes it away.
No set up, no explanation, no reason whatsoever for the crows to attack him like that. It just happens.
And it scared the crap out of me as a kid.
Now, I know that there is a deleted scene that explains that it was a crow that took out Screweye’s….eye, and that is why he has a screw in his….eye….what was he called before that? But it still doesn’t make up for the fact that this scene was completely out of the blue and unexpectedly scary.
So, what is the final verdict?
There is so much wrong with this movie. The story is all over the place, the characters aren’t exactly memorable in terms of personality, it has a lot of unfortunate implications, and the entire thing just wreaks of cutesyness and sappiness.
Yet, there’s a lot I really like too.
The characters, although one dimensional, have a lot of appealing innocence. The story may be a bit too black and white, but it also has this really appealing optimism. The voice acting is good, and the animation is fantastic, if not a bit too hyperactive. This movie is really tough to gauge for me.
As a story, it fails on a lot of fronts. It’s not very coherent and it has difficulty finding the right tone. Is this a little kid’s flick? Is it for older children? Families? I don’t really know. But it’s also very sweet and good natured, and as a kids film it’s in my opinion fairly decent. Not one of the greats, but it’s perfectly harmless to show to children. I can think of films much worse than this to show kids.
Oh God, no!
It really depends on your personal tastes as to whether you will like this movie. Heck, even I’m torn on it. There is some good stuff here, but there is also stuff I really don’t like. In the end, I rate this movie an….
Thank you guys so much for being patient. I know I’ve been inactive for a long time and this thing should have been out WAAAAY before now. But I’m back (I hope) and plan on being here for much longer. My next major project will be continuing my look at the Jurassic Park toys, but first there’s a certain new Pixar movie trailer I have to review…..